MaineDOT plans Auburn review of Portland North commuter plan

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AUBURN — Plans for a commuter system north of Portland, whether it’s a new bus line or a commuter rail, will get a Twin Cities hearing later this month.

Officials from the Maine Department of Transportation are scheduled to discuss everything they’ve learned about what commuters in central Maine need at a meeting at 6 p.m. March 30 at Auburn Hall.

It’s part of an MDOT study called Portland North; and officials will use it to apply for Federal Transit Administration grants in June.

If Maine gets the grants, they would be used to build whatever commuting system the study recommends, Sue Moreau of the MDOT said.

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“What we are talking about is what kind of system, a dedicated route bringing commuters to Portland,” Moreau said. “As part of that, we’re looking at the commuting patterns, who is working in Portland and where they are coming from, as well as where they are going once they get to Portland.”

The plan is considering several options. It could support a rail program — using existing freight tracks to either Brunswick or Auburn — or it could promote creating a rapid-transit regional bus system. That would involve creating dedicated commuter lanes on either Interstate 95 to Auburn or Interstate 295 to Brunswick.

Preliminary data show demand for commuter service favors commuters from Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick instead of Gray, New Gloucester, Durham and Lewiston-Auburn.

“Our preliminary data showed that the Lewiston-Auburn area just does not have as many workers commuting to Portland as the Brunswick area does,” Moreau said. She said preliminary data would be made public when the study was filed with the Federal Transit Administration in June.

Moreau said the state has discussed options with town councils and other officials from communities along the proposed Portland-to-Brunswick line.

“We’ve met with all of the communities along the way, where the new stations and stops would go — Cumberland, Yarmouth, Freeport and Brunswick,” Moreau said. “What we are trying to do is come up with a project that will make sense and have an opportunity to get the FTA grants. That means putting the system where it’s most needed, and where it will be most used.”

The Auburn forum will be the first public review of the Portland North study, although Moreau said there have been several meetings with local stakeholders since the group began working in 2008.

Local stakeholders include Lewiston Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau, Auburn Assistant City Manager Laurie Smith, Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport Manager Rick Cloutier, Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council Executive Director Lucien Gosselin, Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison, Lewiston-Auburn Railroad Co. President Bob Thorpe and Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Robert Thompson.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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